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Majority of Israelis despondent about future of democracy here, survey shows

The danger to democracy looms larger than security threat, poll says; majority see Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus as ‘poor’ and most oppose new elections

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Thousands of protesters chant slogans and hold signs during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his official residence in Jerusalem, August 1, 2020. (Oded Balilty/AP)
Thousands of protesters chant slogans and hold signs during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his official residence in Jerusalem, August 1, 2020. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Israelis perceive the threat to the nation’s democracy as looming larger than the external security threat, according to a survey published Wednesday.

The Israel Democracy Institute survey found that only 38 percent of the respondents felt optimistic about the future of democratic governance in Israel, with 54% pessimistic. This compared to 59% who are optimistic about national security, with 35% pessimistic.

Just over half (51%) give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “poor” or “not good” grade for his personal and ethical behavior. Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and for accepting bribes.

A slightly lower number of respondents, 45%, said his performance handling the coronavirus crisis and running the government was “not good” or “poor.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2020. (Tal Shahar/Pool/AFP)

During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, a majority of interviewees expressed high trust in Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis. Today, with a second wave of the outbreak shaking the nation, only a minority gave him a grade of “good” or “excellent” in that domain: 27% for Jews and 18% for Arabs, the report on the survey said.

Netanyahu’s handling of the nation’s security policy is, however, still approved by most, with 56% of respondents giving him a grade of “good” or “excellent.”

Amid recent chatter about the possibility of the coalition breaking apart, the data shows that the majority of voters from all parties oppose new elections, with right-wing voters wanting it the least, the report said.

The data showed that only 25% of Jewish Israelis and 43% Arab Israelis support dismantling the current government and going to new elections at the end of 2020.

Broken down by party, 27% of Likud voters were in favor of another election this year, along with 15% of voters for right-wing Yamina; 32% of secularist Yisrael Beytenu voters; 28% of Blue and White voters, 36% of Labor-Gesher-Meretz voters; 40% of the predominantly Arab Joint List party voters; and 17% of Shas voters and 19% of United Torah Judaism voters, both ultra-Orthodox parties.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli Voice Index is a monthly survey conducted by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute. In the survey, which was conducted online and by telephone on July 27-29, 2020, 607 men and women were interviewed in Hebrew and 150 in Arabic, constituting a representative national sample of the entire adult population of Israel aged 18 and older.

The survey also polled the positions of Israelis regarding the protests that are roiling streets around the nation. It found that more than half of Jewish Israelis, 58%, from left and right and from all income levels, identify with the protest against the government’s economic policies.

For Jewish respondents on the left, 87% identified with the opposition to the government’s economic policies, compared to 74% and 53% for Jewish respondents from the center and right of the political spectrum, respectively.

The survey also shows that 45% of respondents say they identify with protests against Netanyahu’s continued tenure as prime minister, which broke down to 92% of the Jewish respondents from the left, 71% from the center and 28% from the right of the political spectrum.

Segmentation by income shows that among all levels of earners, a majority identifies with the protest against the government’s economic policies: 61% of those with a below-average income, 54% of those with an average income, and 59% of those with an above-average income.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Among the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, where there is a high level of below-average incomes, there was the lowest degree of identification with the protests. Of non-Haredi Jewish respondents, 70% of those who earned a below-average income said they identified with the protests against the government’s economic policies, as did 62% of average income and 59% of above-average income.

Some 46.5% of respondents said they think police are cracking down too hard on the protesters. A quarter (25%) think police are behaving appropriately considering the circumstances, and 23% believe the police response to the protesters is “too lenient.”

The survey also shows that the coronavirus seems to have had a bigger perceived impact on the income of Jewish Israelis than Arabs: 64% of Jews said their income has changed “a lot” following the crisis, with just 35% of Arabs saying the same. Thirty-five percent of Jews said their income had changed a little or not at all, compared to 53% for Arabs, following the crisis.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said the coronavirus has impacted their leisure activities to “a great or very great extent,” with 68% of respondents saying the same for seeing family and friends.

Among respondents age 30 and under, 48% reported a great impact on their income, whereas for those aged 66 and over, 81.5% said the virus had changed to a “great or very great extent” their meetings with family and friends.

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